5 Self-Sabotaging Habits That Are Holding You Back

Published on 3/18/2021

We like to blame others when things don’t go our way. Our article didn’t do well because of the algorithm, our boss didn’t like our work because they’re biased, and so forth. But sometimes, we need to recognise the power that we hold in such circumstances.

It can be terrifying to realise how much of what happens is in our control. But if you fight this fear and put on a pair of rose-tinted glasses, it won’t be too hard to see the bright side of this blame: this means that you also have the power to fix it.

At least once a day, you probably commit one of these five self-sabotaging habits. The effects of it may seem small, not meeting a deadline or not feeling good about yourself. But over time, such consequences build up, and they only serve to drag you down.

It’s time to confront the five self-sabotaging habits that are holding us back so that we can ensure that they never do so again.

1. Seeking external validation

If you’re waiting for someone else’s approval, you’ll be waiting a long time. Not only because others aren’t waiting to give it to you, but also it will never be enough. Without internal fulfilment, you will never receive enough validation to feel good. The bar will always move up, and you’ll always consider yourself lacking in some department.

You need to be the measure of your own success. Don’t waste your time going after goals that other people have, unless it corresponds with your values. This will ensure that you stay focused and motivated, as you know exactly what you’re doing this for, and you want it badly enough.

Don’t measure your success through external motivators, as they’re all focused on their wins and aren’t here to consider yours. Internal motivation is what makes you get up early to write more; it’s what makes you build a routine destined for success, and it ensures that every sacrifice isn’t even a sacrifice, merely a step towards what you really want.

2. Perfectionism

We’ve all heard the saying, that when you’re asked for your biggest flaw at a job interview, you should say being a perfectionist. As who doesn’t love someone working to do the job perfectly, isn’t that a great trait to have?

It’s actually not, as perfectionists struggle significantly in getting a job done promptly. If you’re always striving for perfection in a task, you’ll spend far too much time and energy on it, unbalanced to the rewards it reaps.

Perfectionism is a self-sabotaging habit as you’re often driving yourself ragged for no reason. You don’t need to have everything perfect in your life, as by trying, you’ll find only one thing manages to be whilst the rest crumble around it. We only have so many hours in a day; we only have so much energy and passion to give, so don’t force yourself into emotional debt by striving for perfection in too many areas.

Choose what’s important to you and focus on those things; you could always incorporate more later once these are handled well. Do you want to write more articles or work on your manuscript? Do you want to spend more time with family or work on your health? It’s not that you have to choose only one, but rather that you can’t find perfection in all of them, and you shouldn’t have to.

3. Ignoring your emotions

It’s become almost fashionable to ignore your emotions and needs, to push yourself so far past the limit that it’s a mere dot in the background. But the consequences of bottling up your emotions are plentiful, such as increases in anxiety, depression or even affecting your immune system and physical health.

When we ignore our emotions, we may fool ourselves into thinking that we’re doing the right thing. We’re being practical or that we’ll deal with them later, but later never comes. There is no perfect moment to deal with how you’re feeling, and emotions don’t go away; instead, they’ll emerge in other aspects of your life or relationships.

It’s like a debt. If you don’t pay now, you may get to keep the money in your bank. But by putting it off and avoiding it, the debt only grows, costing you more money later. By not addressing your emotions now, you get to stay productive or be easygoing in others eyes. But repressing those emotions means they will cost you more later when you can’t be productive for longer, when you burnout when you take those ignored emotions out on friends or family.

Pay the price now whilst it’s small. Address your emotions, as tough as they may be, and work past them. Take it from someone who ignored their grief for over a year, as I didn’t know how to confront it. It came out in other ways, in self-sabotaging behaviours and increased anxiety and depression. Now that I’m facing my grief and loss, I feel better than I ever did when I was ‘happy’.

4. Crossing your boundaries

Boundaries were not made to be broken; they were made to be respected. It is hard to set your boundaries, to recognise what you need and draw that line in the sand. No one wants to admit that they have weaknesses, even though we all have our limits and difficulties. So we pretend that we can keep up with everyone else, whether that’s in a conversation, in lack of sleep, in drinking alcohol or whatever that boundary is for you. But the repercussions are harmful, especially when repeated over time.

Let this be the year that you learn your boundaries, as one of the main aspects of this self-sabotaging habit is that we don’t even know our own boundaries too often. Take the time and outside perspective required to recognise your boundaries. What do you need to be the best version of yourself? What do you not need in your life? Ask yourself questions such as these, and answer them honestly.

Once you’re aware of your boundaries, ensure that others are as well. Just because your colleague sends work emails over the weekend, it doesn’t mean that you have to open them or reply because your boundary is creating a balance between work and your personal life. Just because your friends can go out drinking several nights in a row and skim on their sleep, it doesn’t mean that you can. We all need different things to function, and we especially require different things to succeed. Recognise what it is that you need, and start respecting it. Because if you don’t, why should anyone else?

5. Productive procrastination

I’m not going to just put ‘procrastination’ on this list, as we all know the dangers of procrastinating and feel the frustration as we slide into it. Instead, I want to address productive procrastination, as you may even realise that this habit is sabotaging your success.

Productive procrastination is when you avoid doing the task you intended to do, or need to do, by doing other tasks. You won’t just scroll on your phone or watch Youtube videos, but instead you’ll end up cleaning your house, answering emails, or doing an easier task. Such as when you intend to work on your manuscript but end up writing an article instead - like this writer!

It’s easier for us to excuse such behaviour and maybe even consider it beneficial, and that’s where the danger and self-sabotaging nature of productive procrastination lies because you don’t even address it as the issue that it is.

There are many reasons for productive procrastination, such as an imbalance of task and reward, unclear tasks or feeling overworked. The key to halting this self-sabotaging behaviour is first to recognise why you’re doing it. When the urge comes to replace your main task with a less critical and smaller one, measure how you’re feeling or what you’re thinking in that moment. Are you feeling overwhelmed? Are you feeling intimidated by the task at hand? Does this easier task bring quick, easy rewards, whilst the larger one is more long-term?

By recognising why you’re conducting productive procrastination, it will be easier to stop it or plan in a way that avoids it. To break down your goals into more manageable and less intimidating tasks or research ahead of time.

Out of these five habits, how many do you recognise in yourself? The key lesson to take from this is that people don’t just ‘have’ one of these habits and never the rest. It depends on circumstances, such as being home for months on end during a world pandemic. It depends on the situation you’re in, the people you’re confronted with, the task at hand. But no matter which self-sabotaging habit you’re experiencing, recognise the ‘self’ aspect of it. This means that you’re guilty of the cause, but also that you hold the solution. It won’t be easy to break a habit like these, it’ll take repetition, trial and error, good days and bad days. But it will be worth it. These habits are standing in the way of your success, and by tomorrow you could be a step closer to kicking them out of the way.

Check out these ten things you no longer have to apologise for! Or if you're looking for more boosts to reach your goals, here are six psychology-based tactics.



Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.

Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.

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